Scientists: 'Extreme' solar storm heading to Earth
The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 11:50 p.m. EST on Dec. 16, 2014. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. (NASA)
This image provided by NASA shows the sun releasing a M1.7 class flare associated with a prominence eruption on April, 16, 2012. This image was taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. This visually spectacular explosion occurred on the sun's Northeastern limb (left) and was not Earth directed. (AP Photo/NASA/SDO/AIA)
The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 1:48 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation....
NASA reported the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, on August 24th. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. (Sept. 1)
This blend of two images taken by NASAâs Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar eruption that occurred on May 12, 2013. One image shows light in the 171-angstrom wavelength, the other in 131 angstroms. Scientists say the Motherâs Day solar flare was the strongest of the year and occurred on the side of the sun that faced away from Earth. (AP Photo/NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory)
This July 2012 image taken from video provided by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows ribbons of plasma and magnetic lines bursting from the sun. Stretching from one active region to another, magnetic field lines cause the looping formations. (AP Photo/Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA)
This false-color image provided by NASA shows a solar flare, lower center, erupting from the sun on Thursday, July 12, 2012. Space weather scientists said there should be little impact to Earth. The flare erupted from a region which rotated into view on July 6, 2012. (AP Photo/NASA)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 image made available by NASA, a giant cloud of solar particles, a coronal mass ejection, explodes off the sun, lower right, captured by the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The sun is obscured to show the atmosphere around it. The solar flare caused the cancellation of a launch to the International Space Station on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/ESA, NASA - SOHO)
This image provided by NASA shows a solar flare early Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011, the largest in 5 years. The image was was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in extreme ultraviolet light at 131 Angstroms. Scientists say the bursts of radiation hurled by the solar blast were not in the direction of Earth, so thereâll be little impact to satellites and communication systems. (AP Photo/NASA)
In this x-ray photo provided by NASA, the sun is shown early in the morning of Sunday, Aug. 1, 2010. The dark arc near the top right edge of the image is a filament of plasma blasting off the surface _ part of the coronal mass ejection. The bright region is an unassociated solar flare. When particles from the eruption reach Earth on the evening of Aug. 3-4, they may trigger a brilliant auroral display known as the Northern Lights. (AP Photo/NASA)
A powerful solar flare that erupted Wednesday afternoon Oct.29, 2003, at 3:48 pm EST, is seen with the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope aboard NASA's SOHO satellite.The telescope is sensitive to extreme ultraviolet light, resulting in the green hue. The event was the second in as many days.(AP Photo /NASA )
IN SPACE - FEBRUARY 15: In a screen grab taken from a handout timelapse sequence provided by NASA / SDO, a solar spot in the centre of the Sun is captured from which the first X-class flare was emitted in four years on February 14, 2011. The images taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft reveal the source of the strongest flare to have been released in four years by the Sun, leading to warnings that a resulting geo-magnetic storm may cause disruption to communications and electrical supplies once it reaches the earths magnetic field. (Image by NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - MARCH 6: In this handout from NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a X5.4 solar flare, the largest in five years, erupts from the sun's surface March 6, 2012. According to reports, particles from the flare are suppose to reach earth early March 7, possibly disrupting technology such as GPS system, satellite networks and airline flights. (Photo by NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) via Getty Images)
NASA released powerful footage showing over a half a dozen solar flares in one day. A solar flare occurs when magnetic energy that has been built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released with intense variation of brightness. Photo: NASA/SDO
The US Space Agency Nasa has released new footage showing a series of powerful solar flares.
This image provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center shows a significant solar flare erupting on June 10, 2014. The sun has emitted 3 X-class solar flares in two days. X-class denotes the most intense solar flares. (AP Photo/Goddard Space Flight Center)
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By SETH BORENSTEIN
WASHINGTON (AP) - A strong solar flare is blasting its way to Earth, but the worst of its power looks like it will barely skim above the planet and not cause many problems.
It has been several years since Earth has had a solar storm of this size coming from sunspots smack in the middle of the sun, said Tom Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. The flare on the sun barely hits the "extreme" on forecasters' scale, but with its worst effects missing Earth it is only looking "potentially strong" at most when it arrives at Earth as a solar storm, he said.
New calculations from satellite data show that the worst of the energetic particles streaming from the sun likely will go north or above Earth this time, Berger said late Wednesday.
So while the power grid may see fluctuations because the storm will cause changes in Earth's magnetic field, it won't knock power systems off line, Berger said. It may cause slight disturbances in satellites and radio transmissions but nothing major.
"We're not scared of this one," Berger said.
The storm is moving medium fast, about 2.5 million miles per hour, meaning the soonest it could arrive is early Friday. But it could be later, Berger said.
Solar storms occur often, especially during peaks in the solar cycle, and don't directly harm people.
"There's been a giant magnetic explosion on the sun," Berger said. "Because it's pointed right at us, we'll at least catch some of the cloud" of highly energized and magnetized plasma that can disrupt Earth's magnetic sphere, which sometimes leads to temporary power grid problems.
On the plus side, sun flares expand the colorful northern lights so people farther south can see them. But don't expect them too far south, Berger said.